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Politicians Not Connected With Reality…”Empty Wallets”

July 19, 2011

George Packer has written an excellent an article in The New Yorker that I think is indicative of our current situation with regard to the political machinations surrounding the debt ceiling debate in Washington.

The piece is titled: Empty Wallets, and through Packer’s writing we read about the plight of Danny Hartzell.  Danny is a man living in Florida, or moving from Florida rather, in his search for help and a job.  Danny is the type of worker described in my last post by Charles Blow as the backbone of America.

One of the reasons that Danny is moving is because the new Radical Governor of Florida, Rick Scott has signed a bill into law that makes it harder to collect unemployment benefits, so Mr. Hartzell is hoping he will find some luck searching for a job in rural Georgia.  The article is a short, must-read because it frames this debt ceiling debate around the aura of real people.  Mr. Blow’s article ties in with this theme as they both highlight the current disconnect that exists inside the wealthy beltway of Washington, D.C.  Article in full below:

In the midst of the debt crisis in Washington, D.C., Danny Hartzell backed a Budget rental truck up to a no-frills apartment building that is on a strip of motels and pawnshops in Tampa, Florida. He had been laid off by a packaging plant during the financial crisis of 2008, had run through his unemployment benefits, and had then taken a part-time job stocking shelves at Target in the middle of the night, for $8.50 an hour. His daughter had developed bone cancer, and he was desperate to make money, but his hours soon dwindled to four or five a week. In April, Hartzell was terminated. His last biweekly paycheck was for a hundred and forty dollars, after taxes. “It’s kind of like I’ve fallen into that non-climbable-out-of rut,” he said. “If you can’t climb out, why not move?”

On the afternoon of July 1st, Hartzell was loading the family’s possessions into the rental truck—and brushing off the roaches that had infested the apartment, so that the bugs wouldn’t make the move, too—when a letter arrived from the State of Florida. Four days earlier, Governor Rick Scott, a Republican backed by the Tea Party, had signed a law making it harder for Floridians to collect jobless benefits, and the letter informed Hartzell that he was ineligible for new benefits after losing his job at Target. “I guess it’s just all water under the bridge at this point anyway, being that we’re going to stake a new claim,” Hartzell told his fifteen-year-old son. “Right, Brent?” Then the Hartzells drove ten hours north, to rural Georgia, where no job or house awaited them—only an old friend Hartzell had reconnected with on Facebook, and the hope of a fresh start.

On the day the family moved, there were officially 14.1 million unemployed Americans, or 9.2 per cent of the workforce. Hartzell himself probably isn’t counted in these statistics. In recent years, he has fallen into the more nebulous categories of the part-time employed, the long-term unemployed, and the “marginally attached”—the no-longer-looking unemployed. Economists report that the broader, and more accurate, unemployment rate is 16.2 per cent. Three years after the economic meltdown, nearly one in six Americans are out of work.

I have a theory, and it is not too much of a stretch to believe:  After Obama was elected the head of the Republican Senate, Mitch McConnell stated publicly that it was his goal to make sure that Obama was a one-term President.  You see, to Mitch (who is one of our nation’s wealthiest Senators) it is not about jobs for Americans, it is about ideology, and the zeitgeist ideology today in Republican circles is “protect my wealthy donors so I can get re-elected.”

In Washington, President Barack Obama and Congress are engaged in high-drama brinksmanship, like members of an ordnance-disposal unit arguing about how to defuse a huge ticking bomb. Obama, securely in character, called on all sides to rise above petty politics, acknowledged the practical realities of divided government, and proposed a grand compromise that would lower the deficit by four trillion dollars. According to the Times’ Nate Silver, Obama’s offer, in its roughly four-to-one balance between spending cuts and revenue increases, falls to the right of the average American voter’s preference; in fact, it may outflank the views of the average Republican. Among other drastic cuts to domestic spending, the President proposes a ten-year, hundred-billion-dollar reduction in federal contributions to Medicaid, a program that helped provide new sets of teeth for Danny Hartzell and his wife just before their move.

The Republicans are also securely in character. They’ve rejected everything that the President has proposed, because Obama’s deal includes tax increases and the closing of loopholes for hedge-fund managers and corporate jets and companies that move offshore. Ninety-seven per cent of House Republicans have taken something called the “No Tax Pledge.” Some Republicans have also proposed that any deal require Obama to repeal the country’s new health-care law, which, had it been in place last year, would have provided the Hartzells with medical insurance, instead of forcing them to rely on charity hospitals for their daughter’s cancer treatment. Representative Paul Ryan’s ten-year budget plan, which remains his party’s blueprint for the future, would impose a fifty-per-cent cut on programs like food stamps and Supplemental Security Income, which, as long as Danny Hartzell remains jobless, represent the Hartzells’ only income. By the last day of June, the Hartzells had twenty-nine dollars to their name. The Republicans in Congress won’t be satisfied until the family is out on the street.

I believe this last sentence is true: “The Republicans in Congress won’t be satisfied until the family is out on the street.”  How else could one examine Republican policies in the past few years and conclude anything different?  They are a party, now radicalized by Tea-Party zealots, which is intent on destroying the minuscule social safety net that we have in America so that the wealthy can garner more and more of the nation’s share of income.  It is like they are absolutely brainwashed with callous disregard for the constituents living in many of their districts.  Even worse, with the rise of right-wing media, the “low-information” voters that they speak to actually vote AGAINST their own economic interests each time they punch the (R) in the voting booth.

The sociologist Max Weber, in his 1919 essay “Politics as a Vocation,” drew a distinction between “the ethic of responsibility” and “the ethic of ultimate ends”—between those who act from a sense of practical consequence and those who act from higher conviction, regardless of consequences. These ethics are tragically opposed, but the true calling of politics requires a union of the two. On its own, the ethic of responsibility can become a devotion to technically correct procedure, while the ethic of ultimate ends can become fanaticism. Weber’s terms perfectly capture the toxic dynamic between the President, who takes responsibility as an end in itself, and the Republicans in Congress, who are destructively consumed with their own dogma. Neither side can be said to possess what Weber calls a “leader’s personality.” Responsibility without conviction is weak, but it is sane. Conviction without responsibility, in the current incarnation of the Republican Party, is raving mad.

Representative Austin Scott, from the Hartzells’ new state of Georgia, is the president of the House Republicans’ freshman class. Last week, Scott, addressing the possibility that the United States might default on its debt, offered this blithe assessment: “I certainly think you will see some short-term volatility. In the end, the sun is going to come up tomorrow.” It was Lenin who first said, “The worse, the better,” a mantra adopted by elements of the New Left in the nineteen-sixties. This nihilistic idea animates a large number of Republican officeholders. The battle over the debt ceiling is a contest between grown-up sobriety and juvenile righteousness, which doesn’t leave much choice.

The quote from Lenin: “The worse, the better,” is quite telling and a bit scary.  It fits my narrative to a tee.  The Republicans don’t want the economy to get better, they don’t want people to find work, they do want people to feel miserable, they do want people to distrust this President – that way the can fulfill Mitch’s threat of a one-term President.  In other words, this social destruction is by design and to hell with the average, everyday, working class Americans who are destroyed in the process.

They even have their own propaganda channels, internet sites, and radio stations who convince low-information voters that cutting taxes for the rich while stripping any assistance they might hope to get is actually GOOD for them.  This is the insidious nature of propagandists gone insane.

Nor does it leave much hope. President Obama, responsibly acceding to the reality of divided government, is now the leading champion of fiscal austerity, and his proposals contain very little in the way of job creation. More important, he no longer uses his office’s most powerful tool, rhetorical suasion, to keep the country focussed on the continued need for government activism. His opponents’ approach to job creation is that of a cargo cult—just keep repeating “tax cuts”—even though the economic evidence of the past three decades refutes such magical thinking. What does either side have to offer the tens of millions of Americans who have settled into a semi-permanent state of economic depression? Virtually nothing. But if responsibility were fused with conviction—if politics were a vocation in Washington today—the Hartzells would be represented at the negotiating table.

Sadly, today, the Hartzells, and all of the middle and working classes are NOT represented at the table in Washington.  As I have stated many times, this needs to change.  We need strong populist candidates who are NOT beholden to corporate money to start at the bottom in all local elections and work their way higher.


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